5 Sexism Survival Tips From the Women in Hollywood Conference
"YA: Raising Up New Heroes" panel. Left to right: Lucy Fisher (producer, Divergent), Melissa Rosenberg (screenwriter, Twilight saga), Rachel Kimbrough (moderator)
The leader of the free world may be an African American man, but we're hardly in a post-racial society. A woman may have won the Academy Award for directing (an action movie!) in 2009, but women are still severely underrepresented in the entertainment industry both on screen and behind the scenes.
This past weekend, Pepperdine University Law School's Straus institute for Dispute Resolution hosted the Women in Hollywood Conference. Over two hundred attendees flocked to hear successful women panelists speak about their experiences negotiating the system and how to tackle the challenges ahead.
"While overt sexism has been eradicated, it hasn't been pulled out by the roots," advised TV writer-producer, Nell Scovell, who also co-authored Lean In with Sheryl Sandberg. "It's like they botoxed the entire women's movement. We're frozen and we can't even look surprised."
In the top grossing 250 films of 2012, 9 percent of directors were women, 15 percent of writers and 17 percent of executive producers.
"I can't tell you the number of women who I run into who say, 'Not that I'm a feminist but...,'" said Melissa Rosenberg, creator of ABC's Red Widow and screenwriter of the entire Twilight franchise. Rosenberg says she was refused an interview to write for 24 because they "already had a woman writer." "These young women believe the battle has been won," said Rosenberg. "It hasn't."
And since it hasn't, here are five tips from the two-day conference for how to continue the fight.
1. Educate yourself about gender bias.
In Lean In, Sandberg shows that success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. The higher on the corporate ladder a woman climbs, the less likable she is perceived to be. The opposite is true for men. Organizational behavior professor Herminia Ibarra calls innate preferences like this Second Generation Gender Biases. These include the notion that women value money less, are more emotional and deserve to be repaid less often for favors they do for colleagues because they are "nurturing." They want to help. Raising awareness of these biases and discussing them with friends and colleagues is the only way to implement change.
2. Embrace the science of your brain's gender.
When Barbara Annis, author of Leadership and the Sexes: Using Gender Science to Create Success in Business, showed a slide during her keynote speech of the male and female brains at rest, the mostly female audience gasped in surprise, then recognition. The activity in the male was clumped at the back of the brain, while the female activity continued to pulsate throughout. Women have significantly more neurons connecting the two sides of their brain as well as more insula (improving intuition) and memory centers. As a result, women and men have different approaches to paying attention, completing tasks and de-stressing. Women pull information from both sides of their brain to solve problems while men use a more linear processes and one side of the brain at a time. Understanding the power and the pitfalls of one's internal wiring helps you optimize your own functioning and avoid misinterpretations of the opposite sex's behavior.
3. Negotiate the "Fuck You Money"
On average in 2012, women earned 77 cents for every dollar men earned performing the exact same job. The disparity gets higher as the level of education raises. That's partially because those higher paying jobs allow for salary negotiation. On average, women negotiate equally if not better for others (as agents, lawyers, and mediators) but far worse for themselves. If you fail to negotiate your first salary, on average a person loses $1 million over the course of a lifetime. In the entertainment industry, where every meeting is an audition for your next job, this skill becomes even more important. "Don't tell yourself you're making trouble," quipped Scovell, addressing women's tendencies. "Tell yourself you're making progress. It's not just about raising consciousness. It's about raising salaries."
Better salaries also mean more financial security for women and therefore the ability to take more risks and speak up when you experience sexism. Rena Ronson, cohead of the Independent Film Group at UTA, advised, "You always want to have your 'Fuck You Money,' so you can get out of a situation when you need to."
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4. Become a critic
Not only are the majority of creators and executives working in the entertainment industry male, so are the majority of voices telling the public what to see. As of Spring 2013, 78 percent of critics in major publications, 91 percent of critics writing for movie/entertainment magazines/websites and 70 percent of critics writing for radio outlets were male. Critics lead the conversation on what we see and, in the indie world, even what makes it to the screen. Wendy Japhet, producer of An Education, remembered that after prominent L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan blogged positively about the film, a buying frenzy ensued.
The number of leading roles going to women dropped from 16 to 11 percent over the last ten years and you're as likely to see a woman extraterrestrial as a Latino or Asian female. Last year, film critic Michael Calleri shared a story on Roger Ebert's blog of how he had been told by the owner of his newspaper, the Niagara Falls Reporter, to avoid reviewing films with strong women leads. Adding more women and minorities to the conversation about what films are worth seeing will be a major step in the right direction.
5. You CAN do it all, but you'll have to fight for it.
Most of the last two generations of women in the developed world have been lucky enough to be told "You can do it all." What's disappeared from the conversation is that while women deserve to do it all, they still have to fight for it.
"Both my mother and my step-mother were feminists," said Rosenberg, in an interview after her panel. "When I was in my early twenties, I thought that we had won the war. I thought we were all equal. There was a specific moment in my career when I realized that I had been telling myself that lie for a long time because it was too painful to admit that I was a second class citizen, being paid a fraction of what men make on the dollar. I'm not equal. I'm one of twenty percent of the Writers Guild that are women. The message to women now should actually be, 'You have to fight to do it all.'"
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